Rex Ryan had an entire 90-player roster to choose from Tuesday when he was asked who stood out during the team’s training camp at St. John Fisher College.
Ryan thought for a second before answering.
“Worthy,” the coach said. “I think he’s come a long way.”
That’s true in more than ways that one.
Defensive tackle Jerel Worthy NFL odyssey has taken him from Green Bay to New England to Kansas City and a cup of coffee in Detroit. Now, he hopes he’s finally found a home in Western New York.
“When you go through some ups and downs, some injuries, moving around from team to team, you’ve got to find yourself again a little bit,” he said. “You have to get back to the basics, and what’s the reason why you’re in the league in the first place.”
For Worthy, that means being disruptive. A consensus All-American at Michigan State in 2011, he had 27.5 tackles for loss in three years with the Spartans and was a second-round draft pick of the Packers in 2012. So there’s no doubt the skills are there.
“From high school to college, everything was smooth sailing for me,” Worthy said. “I had to deal with some injuries here or there, but nothing where it took me off the field and I had to sit and watch players compete.”
A back injury during his last year in Green Bay, however, was something unlike he’s ever gone through before.
“It was a new area, and a different rehab process,” he said. “Having to train my core back up again, to be able to handle offensive lineman, that definitely was the biggest thing I had to overcome. It takes a long time to get back from certain types of injuries.”
After getting cut by the Lions last September, Worthy was out of football for two months, before the Bills added him to their practice squad. He used that time to revamp his diet and workout regimen.
“I had to find out what it’s like to be a professional,” he said. “Every day you go home and see your family, everything has to be centered around taking care of your body, what’s important, learning the tricks of the trade to extend your career.
“Every week somebody goes down, somebody gets hurt. It’s kind of hard to stay healthy in this league, but those who find a way to do it can stay around for a long period of time. I’m just trying to figure that out.”
Worthy got promoted to the Bills’ 53-man roster for the final two games of the 2015 season, an experience he described as valuable because it showed him how he can fit in Ryan’s defense.
“Rex loved my work ethic from the time I walked through the door until the end of the season, so I just wanted to take it to another level to let him know I wasn’t a player that was just going to be a part of the team,” he said. “I wanted to be a player that’s going to contribute to the success of our football team. From that point on, I’ve just wanted to make it known that I want to be a premier player on this defense.”
A four-game suspension for Marcell Dareus is the opportunity Worthy needed to have that chance.
“I’m finally in a system that believes in my skillset, believes in what I do best,” he said. “They want me to go out there and showcase it, so I’m just happy to be in this situation.”
The analytics website Pro Football Focus graded Worthy as one of the top two interior defensive linemen during Week Two of the preseason. He had five total tackles against the Giants.
Under the tutelage of defensive line coach John Blake, Worthy has been training at every spot on the defensive line – from nose tackle to five-technique defensive end.
That should give him a good chance to earn significant playing time as part of a defensive line rotation once the real games begin.
“Every day is a work in progress,” he said. “When I first came in here last year, Rex gave me the opportunity to play, and ever since then I told him I’d do my best to pay him back for the opportunity. I try to do that every day. I’m blessed to be here and I’m very humble. I’m ready to get out there and showcase that I’ve still got some skills.”